Staging America: Cornerstone and Community-Based Theater

By Sonja Kuftinec | Go to book overview

2

IDENTITY TRACES: HISTORIOGRAPHIC PERSPECTIVES ON CORNERSTONE AND COMMUNITY-BASED THEATER

If you would judge beforehand of the literature of a people that is lapsing into democracy, study its dramatic production.... No kind of literary gratification is so much within the reach of the multitude as that which is derived from theatrical representations.

—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Sophomoric, amateur, insulting. Gordon [Davidson, artistic director of Mark Taper Forum], how could you use this at the Taper?

—Anonymous Taper subscriber responding to
Cornerstone's For Here or To Go

ommunity theater has an image problem. Or perhaps it is a semantic Cproblem. For what has emerged in the past twenty years as “community-based theater” bears little resemblance to the images conveyed by the term community theater, at least in the United States. 1 Prior to the addition of a hyphenated base, borrowed from public funding language and popularized in the 1980s, theater scholars and professional practitioners tended to refer to community theater and its antecedents in pejorative terms, conjuring scenes of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland rummaging through Granny's trunk in the barn, puttin' on a show. John Anderson's 1938 dismissal of early-century Little Theaters as an “abortive” and “rather silly national excursion into the drama” is typical. 2 And despite a wide range of ongoing practices and developing scholarship, contemporary attitudes towards community-based theater can echo Anderson, as witnessed by the regional theater subscriber cited above. The subscriber's comment, with its implicit focus on the difference between good (regional, professional) and bad (community, amateur) art, exemplifies a prevailing critical distinction.

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